Labor has claimed victory in the Eden-Monaro byelection with Kristy McBain saying she would follow in Mike Kelly’s footsteps and not be “hyper-partisan” and put her electorate first, with a focus on rolling out bushfire relief to ravaged communities.
McBain maintained a narrow lead over the Liberal candidate, Fiona Kotvojs, from the moment counting began on Saturday night, a trend which continued as counting resumed on Sunday.
Labor claimed victory despite the ongoing count, with the postal vote and preference trend continuing to fall in McBain’s favour, giving the former Bega mayor a lead Labor felt could not be topped.
At the last count, the Australian Electoral Commission had McBain ahead with a 0.7% swing on the two-party preferred measure, 50.87% to 49.13%.
The Liberals had hoped that Scott Morrison’s record personal approval ratings would help Kotvojs across the line, but McBain said it was a local campaign on local issues.
“Voters didn’t really speak to me about Scott Morrison,” she said.
“Voters were speaking to me about the issues they were having, the experiences they had, their issues with jobkeeper, worrying about what will happen with bushfire relief, worrying about how they’re going to make it through the summer, you know, worrying about the future of jobs for their kids in the region, worrying about healthcare issues, local roads, telephone black spots right across the regions.
“No – the issues people were telling me, they were local issues on the ground.”
On postals, there is now a 3.3% 2PP swing to Labor. Labor on 46.1% (Liberals 53.9%). 6,500 votes have now been counted. Unclear how many to come but could be 4,000-odd. McBain is 1,000 votes in front. To win the Libs need 63% of the 2PP count on postals.— Katharine Murphy (@murpharoo) July 5, 2020
Anthony Albanese said McBain claimed victory in an environment which was not “politics as usual” and had won despite Kotvojs experience as a previous candidate for the seat, and Morrison’s popularity.
“We said the people of Eden-Monaro should send the government a message,” Albanese said.
“They have done that. I just hope the government receives it. They declared victory at halftime last night. I am not quite sure what count they were looking at, but the government needs to listen to the suffering that is occurring on the ground in Eden-Monaro, and Kristy McBain will make sure that those voices are heard.”
On Saturday night – with the result on a knife’s edge – government ministers, including Angus Taylor and Sussan Ley, called the night a “disaster” for the Labor leader, despite McBain’s lead.
Taylor doubled down on that claim on Sunday morning, telling Sky News, the result was “devastating” for Albanese.
“There’s no question this is a very good result for us and it’s a dire result for Labor, regardless of the outcome,” he said.
Burke, speaking to the same program, wondered if Coalition MPs were watching the same tally.
“There’s a certain desperation – it wasn’t just Angus Taylor in your interview just then. Both of the networks including here that ran coverage last night had Liberal spokespeople on who were desperate – like a real weird desperation – to try to go after Anthony Albanese last night,” he said.
“And effectively they were arguing that if Labor lost it would be really bad for him and if Labor won it would still be really bad for him. You look at this and the only thing I can presume is that their research is showing that the authenticity of Anthony Albanese is a real foil to the marketing image of Scott Morrison.
“And they’re just desperate to try to cause him some damage.”
Albanese said his leadership of the Labor party was never in question, and the only talk of trouble was “amongst the people here”, meaning the press gallery, “and no one in my caucus room”.
“We have won a byelection against the odds, after the government, as you would be aware, were briefing out earlier in the week that they were going to win,” he said.
“These are difficult circumstances. This is, bear in mind that Eden-Monaro is a seat that, on the current boundaries, has not been won at any time during the Hawke and Keating governments.
“This is a seat that has always been held by the government [of the day] as well. And some of the simplistic analysis about what happens in byelections has not taken into account the last time a sitting member was not standing and [their party] has won a marginal seat.”
Albanese said with 14 candidates in the field, and a new candidate, it was not surprising to see a drop in the primary vote.
Labor’s primary vote dipped from the 2019 election result, an outcome the party had been preparing for, having attributed between 3% and 4% of its vote to Kelly’s personal popularity in the region.
The five-week campaign was carried out in the shadow of Covid-19, meaning the usual election conventions, such as town hall meetings, meet and greets, and mass doorknocking, could not be carried out.
Labor has enjoyed a stronger preference flow than the Liberals, including from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party, as well as leakage from the Nationals, following a somewhat confused campaign from the Liberal’s Coalition partner.
On the face of the initial results, voters in regions ravaged by bushfire and then the pandemic swung towards Labor, while the Liberals performed more strongly in the Snowy Mountains regions.
Results varied across the electorate. Voters in the bushfire-ravaged and Covid-19-depressed regions of the New South Wales south coast swung to Labor both on polling day and in pre-poll, but the Liberals performed more strongly in regions in the Snowy Mountains.